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Friday 10 November 2023

‘Follow the Master’ by Graham Donnelly

The Book Guild Ltd,
28 July 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-91585302-8 (PB)

Follow The Master by Graham Donnelly is a skilful blend of fact and fiction narrated by its protagonist Lewis Durrington.  The story revolves around Durrington’s friendship with the British economist John Maynard Keynes, the “master” of the book’s title.  It is set in the period which runs from the early 1900s until the aftermath of the Second World War and includes some time shifts.

The novel opens in 1944 when Durrington sees Keynes on a newsreel.  The news item is about an economic conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire at which Keynes was led the British delegation in discussions to agree a vital “post-war financial settlement” with representatives from other allied nations.  This chance reminder of a man he first met some forty years earlier at Cambridge, prompts Durrington to visit Keynes at his office in Whitehall.  There he encounters Alec Harborough, Keynes assistant, who eventually confides that Keynes is being blackmailed for historic sexual indiscretions.  Lewis and Alec decide not to inform or involve the man they both admire, partly because he is ill and partly because they believe that his work is too crucial to be cut short by past misdemeanours.  They resolve to find and stop the blackmailer, but their plan is fraught with danger that will jeopardise them both.

Woven into the blackmail plot, is Durrington’s recollection of the way his relationship with Keynes has developed over the years since their first meeting as undergraduates.  From the outset Durrington, who is slightly younger than Keynes, has enjoyed a “relatively successful,” but not spectacular, career as a stockbroker.  When his old friend appears on screen, Lewis is contemplating retirement, whilst Keynes remains an active and influential world figure.  Durrington considers himself an underachiever and, from his point of view, the friendship is tinged with regret.  He is proud to be thought of as Keynes’ friend, but has always orbited, rather than inhabited, his hero’s world.  Durrington never feels truly comfortable within the highbrow communities Keynes associates himself with, whether they be the academics at Cambridge or the unconventional artists of the Bloomsbury Group.

Graham Donnelly’s depiction of characters is, as always, sublime.  Like several other of the author’s previous male protagonists, Lewis Durrington is an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary situation.  Lewis is relatable and inspires empathy as he describes his inner conflicts and self-doubt, whilst confronting the perils of crime and corruption.  Socio-historical details are deftly embedded within the narrative.  They offer a perceptive insight into the uncertainties that defined and destabilised life throughout the first half of the twentieth century, without ever distracting from the tale.

Thrilling, edgy and profoundly human, Follow The Master is another well-researched and beautifully written novel.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Graham Donnelly was born and grew up in London. His varied professional background includes government service, international banking and lecturing in Economics and Management. His first five books were written in the 1980s and 90s and related to his academic work. His first novel, Mussolini's Chest, arose out of his interest in modern history and how ordinary people react to extraordinary situations and is based on true events. His second novel, Unwritten Rules, draws on his own experience in the Home Office and his knowledge of the state security issues at that time. He lives with his wife near Colchester and has two children and three grandchildren.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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